Appointed as a young leader who could mend a campus torn by 1960s student activism, President Derek C. Bok has presided over two decades marked by massive financial growth, curriculum reform, and its own fair share of internal controversies.
In 20 years, Bok has dramatically increased Harvard's endowment--which has tripled in just the last ten years and stands now at more than $5 billion.
He directed a seven-year fundraising campaign for the Faculty Arts and Sciences (FAS) and drew international attention to Harvard as he directed its 350th anniversary gala in 1986. And he will leave the University as it gears up for the largest fund drive ever for an institution of higher education--more than $2 billion.
In the meantime, Bok created the Kennedy School of Government, building one of the nation's first schools dedicated to educating future government leaders and advisers. And it was during Bok's tenure that Harvard instituted its Core Curriculum, which has expanded its scope since its inception 11 years ago.
But Bok's abilities as a financial leader have also made him the subject of frequent student scrutiny. His reluctance to subordinate the University's financial well-being to moral debates--specifically his opposition to selling Harvard's South African-related investments--have made Bok the focus of intense protests from students and some alumni.
And while Bok has put great stock in his new management style--one which he says allows more careful and deliberate decision-making--some say it has often subordinated the issues to the process. Many faculty watchers have said that Bok's networks of ad-hoc committees have led to slow progress on junior faculty promotions and reform within departments, while producing unpopular decisions on several tenure decisions both in FAS and Harvard Law School.
When Nathan M. Pusey '28 handed the presidency to Bok, Pusey left a campus torn by controversy over the Vietnam War, ties to the military and race relations. Upon taking office, one of Bok's first acts was to make the then-experimental Afro-American Studies program a formal Faculty department.
But Bok also looked to change the top-heavy administrative structures that many believed had plagued Pusey's administration. Bok decentralized Harvard's management, creating four vice-presidencies, an in-house legal staff, an office of government and community affairs and myriad assistant deans and other mid-level bureaucratic positions.
Athough Bok has said he does not enjoy fundraising, he has made it one of his top priorities as president, and has remained actively involved in financial matters throughout his tenure. The University's endowment remains the largest of any institution of higher education in the world, and Bok is credited with making the $350 million fund drive in 1986--which was originally slated for only $250 million--a success.
"I am a great admirer of President Bok. He is very able, very decent and absolutely devoted to Harvard," said Peter L. Malkin '55, a Harvard overseer who is heading alumni fundraising in New York.
One institution that enjoyed particular financial success was the Kennedy School of Government. With new facilities built under Bok's administration, the Kennedy School has in recent years sent advisers to aid national and local government leaders, including every president since Jimmy Carter.
"Inspired by his vision and encouragement, the John F. Kennedy School of Government is one his princial legacies to Harvard," said Robert G. Putnam, dean of the Kennedy School.
Yet it was precisely this commitment to financial interests that attracted student protests throughout his tenure. Bok--who had a reputation as a conciliator from his tenure as dean of the Law School--first confrontedstudent activism in 1972. At that time, studentsheld a "mill-in" at University Hall to urgedivestment from 70,000 shares in Gulf Oil, whichhad business and government ties to Angola.
Bok, in a tone that was to become familiar inthe coming years, announced two months later thatHarvard would not divest, asserting that theUniversity should not use its finances to makepolitical statements. Upon that announcement,Black students occupied Massachusetts Hall for aweek, forcing students and administrators there torelocate temporarily.
Although the activism quieted through themid-1970s, divestment would prove to be a lastingthorn in Bok's side. In 1978, some 3500 protestersheld a candlelight vigil and the next day tookover Massachusetts Hall, forcing Bok and otheradministrators to temporarily move to Dana PalmerHouse for the day.
In the 1980s, divestment activism continued togain strength, reaching its peak in 1986. After aseries of confrontations with Bok and his topadvisors, students built shanties in the Yard,leaving them for all to see as Harvard geared upfor its 350th anniversary celebration.
Although divestment activism has never reachedthe levels it did in 1986, students have continuedto press for complete abdication from all firmsassociated with South Africa--a move they say isessential, but which Bok has consistentlydescribed as irresponsible.
One alumni activist today called Bok'sdivestment stance a "complete failure to respondeffectively to change in South Africa."
"It is obviously an issue that has taken a lotof time over the years," Bok said today. "I'veacted on arguments I thought were right. It's adisagreement of principle."
But if activists have not yet won theirdivestment fight, another equally hard-foughtbattle--one to unionize the University's clericaland technical employees--finally succeeded in1988, despite Bok's objections.
Ironically, the union movement began the sameyear Bok became president, as a small group ofwomen at the Medical School began a movement tounionize the 700 staff members across the river.The University fought unionization, but by 1988,the effort had gained enough momentum to call aUniversity-wide vote on the issue.
Throughout the final year of the campaign,union organizers were extremely critical of Bok.Although he had gained a reputation as a strongunion supporter as a labor law expert at the LawSchool, Bok--in the role of a manager--opposedunionization and unsuccessfully contested theunion's narrow victory.
While Bok's decentralized adminstration leftdeans and other managers officially responsiblefor many matters, very little was decided at theUniversity without his approval--especially indealings with FAS.
Bok appointed Henry Rosovsky as dean in 1973,and strongly supported Rosovsky's efforts tocreate and implement the core Curriculum, whichsparked national debate over the state of Americanhigher education. Bok then picked A. MichaelSpence to succeed Rosovsky, and publicly supportedSpence's initiatives to improve conditions forjunior faculty and minority hiring at Harvard.
But Bok's commitment to Spence's initiativeswere often questioned, as his reliance ontraditional methods and standards for facultyhiring often stood in the way of change.Ironically, Bok's decentralized style--along witha strong dose of institutional momentum--oftenmade reform more difficult.
Bok created the Afro-American StudiesDepartment, but saw it fall into disarray inrecent years. Currently, the department has onlyone tenured professor.
In addition, Harvard's tenure system--which Bokhas been unwilling to reform--has given theUniversity a reputation as a dead-end for manyjunior faculty around the country.
Bok has said this adherence stems from anunwillingness to compromise Harvard's highstandards and reputation. However, some academicshave argued that if Harvard truly wants tomaintain its reputation, it must revise its tenuresystem so that it can still attract quality juniorprofessors.
Back to the Law School
Tenure troubles of a different nature alsobrought Bok into the fray at the Law School, wherehe had been dean for two years before becomingpresident.
When the faculty became deadlocked over thepromotion of several left-wing scholars, DeanJames Vorenberg '49 asked Bok to intervene,breeching the school's traditional autonomy andconvening his own ad-hoc committees to review thecases of two professors.
Both times, Bok ultimately decided that theradical scholars did not deserve tenure, promptingsome professors to protest apparent intolerancewhile others to commended his commitment tointegrity. Bok's subsequent appointment of RobertC. Clark--a particularly conservativeprofessor--to succeed Vorenberg only renewed thedebate.
"He's a person of immense integrity anddedication," said Clark Byse, Byrne Professor ofAdministrative Law at the Law School. "I very muchadmire his effort to address matters ofsubstance."
Championing Higher Education
Bok is perhaps best known outside Harvard forhis controversial debates about higher educationwith University of Chicago Professor Allan Bloomand former Secretary of Education William J.Bennett. Much of this debate has centered aroundHarvard's Core Curriculum, which was establishedin 1979 by then-Dean of Faculty Henry Rosovsky.
This year, Bok again took up the cause ofhigher education, using his annual report todefend America's colleges and universities againstwhat he said was unprecedented attacks from thelikes of Bloom and Bennett.
Although often noted for his commitment totradition, Bok presided over a revolutionarychange in one of the College's most longstandingtraditions--its single-sex status.
Although plans for the "non-merger merger"between Harvard and Radcliffe had begun before Boktook office, he and former Radcliffe PresidentMatina S. Horner completed and implemented it inthe 1970s.
Harvard PresidentsHenry Dunster 1640-1654Charles Chauncy 1654-1672Leonard Hoar 1672-1675Urian Oakes 1675-1681John Rogers 1682-1684Increase Mather 1685-1701John Leverett 1708-1724Benjamin Wadsworth 1725-1737Edward Holyoke 1737-1769Samuel Locke 1770-1773Samuel Langdon 1774-1780Joseph Willard 1781-1804Samuel Webber 1806-1810John Thornton Kirkland 1810-1828Josiah Quincy 1829-1845Edward Everett 1846-1849Jared Sparks 1849-1853James Walker 1853-1860Cornelius Conway Felton 1860-1862Thomas Hill 1862-1868Charles William Eliot 1869-1909Abbott Lawrence Lowell 1909-1933James Bryant Conant 1933-1953Nathan Marsh Pusey 1953-1971Derek C. Bok 1971-1990